WASHINGTON — Fifty-five individuals in 20 countries, including the United States, have been identified as part of a multi-agency, international operation targeting individuals using social networking groups to exchange child pornography. During the investigation, 12 children were also identified and removed from harm.
Information about the 55 targets was forwarded to the 20 countries where the targets are living. Six of the individuals identified are living in the United States. Investigations are still ongoing in many of the cases and more search warrants are anticipated.
Operation Laminar began in October 2010 as a covert online investigation by New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs' (DIA) Censorship Compliance Unit, after they discovered significant amounts of child pornography being traded on social networking sites, including Facebook, Socialgo and grou.ps. DIA alerted Interpol's Crimes Against Children team, who contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Working with HSI's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit, and with assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, the joint investigation identified a large number of groups on Facebook, as well as the other social networking platforms, engaged in the display or distribution of child pornography.
The investigation was conducted with the support and assistance of Facebook officials. Some of the individuals targeted had already been referred to law enforcement as part of Facebook's proactive efforts to ensure their platform is not used to sexually exploit children or further the sexual exploitation of children through the dissemination of child sexual abuse images.
"Operation Laminar demonstrates that when governments team up to attack the global distribution of images of child sexual abuse the success is real," said ICE Director John Morton. "ICE will continue to work tirelessly with our international law enforcement partners to protect children wherever they live and to bring justice to criminals wherever they operate."
Maarten Quivooy, general manager of New Zealand's regulatory compliance operations, said the Internet had destroyed jurisdictional boundaries and that protecting children was a global responsibility to which DIA was committed.
"Distributing child sexual abuse images is an international crime requiring an international response," he said. "Child sex abuse imagery is not a victimless crime as it involves real children forced into degrading acts."
Praising New Zealand's initiative in launching the original investigation, the head of Interpol's Crimes Against Children Unit, Mick Moran, said the operation once again demonstrated the need for international cooperation.
"It is said that the Internet has no boundaries, but that does not mean that laws do not apply – that people committing offenses online will not be identified. There is no safe environment or anonymous area for individuals who think that they can trade and publish child abuse images online, as proved once again by this operation, which should serve as a warning to others – you will be caught," he said. "While disrupting these networks is a significant part of the investigation, what is more important is that innocent children and, in some cases, babies have been rescued from physical abuse."
The 55 key targets in Operation Laminar were identified as individuals who had actively created groups which distributed abusive material, posted images of children under the age of 13 being abused and had actively encouraged the sexual abuse of children through comments or video and photo postings.
The 20 countries where the identified targets live include Australia, Bosnia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, The Netherlands, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States and Venezuela.
HSI's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit investigates the transborder large scale production and distribution of images of child abuse, as well as individuals who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors. The Child Exploitation Investigations Unit employs the latest technology to collect evidence and track the activities of individuals and organized groups who sexually exploit children through the use of websites, chat rooms, newsgroups and peer-to-peer trading. These investigative activities are organized under Operation Predator, a program managed by the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit.
Operation Predator is a nationwide HSI initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.